Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Rulings Split Jewish Groups Along Denominational Lines

July 25, 1989
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

American Jewish organizations were divided along denominational lines in their reactions to the two rulings issued Monday by Israel’s highest court.

Non-Orthodox organization praised the High Court of Justice’s reaffirmation of the right of non-Orthodox converts to gain automatic Israeli citizenship.

But Orthodox groups focused on the second ruling, in which non-Orthodox rabbis were again blocked from performing marriages and other personal-status rituals in Israel.

The swift reaction to the landmark rulings indicated that, despite efforts by some groups to paint the convert decision as a “victory for Jewish unity,” the “Who Is a Jew” issue remains a divisive concern in the Diaspora.

The Association of Reform Zionists of America called the ruling on converts “a major victory for religious liberty and religious pluralism in Israel.”

And it termed the ruling denying non-Orthodox rabbis the right to perform marriages “a setback but not a defeat.” It said it would begin mobilizing support in Israel for a law allowing Reform and Conservative rabbis to officiate at weddings.

The United Synagogue of America, the association of Conservative congregations, took a similar stand. Its president, Franklin Kreutzer, said, “We will no longer tolerate Conservative Judaism being accorded less validity in Israel than Orthodoxy.”

Sholom Comay, president of the American Jewish Committee, welcomed the decision on converts, saying it “helps to preserve the unity of the Jewish people so essential to Israel at this critical time.”

But while his organization is not affiliated with the major Jewish denominations, he expressed concern about “the monopoly exercised by the Orthodox rabbinate in matters of marriage and divorce within Israel.”


Phil Baum, associate executive vice president of the American Jewish Congress, another nonaffiliated group, said the decision on converts “is a welcome affirmation that the common bonds of Jewish history and fate have endured and continue to bind us into one people.”

Likewise, Thomas Neumann, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, called the ruling on converts “a victory for tolerance and pluralism that will enhance Jewish unity and enable a greater number of American Jews to identify more strongly with the State of Israel.”

“We look forward to the day when all branches of Judaism will truly be equal in the Jewish state,” he said.

But Rabbi Moshe Sherer, president of the Orthodox Agudath Israel of America, said the High Court’s rulings are incongruous.

“On the one hand, it places a stop sign’ at Israel’s borders to halt non-Orthodox rabbis from performing marriages in Israel,” he said.

On the other hand, it “places a ‘welcome sign’ at Israel’s borders for the fruits of there halachically invalid practices, such as quickie conversions, so long as they are performed in the United States by these same rabbis.”

The court’s decisions, he said, reaffirm “that Israel remains closed to the concept of ‘three wings of Judaism,’ which has wreaked spiritual havoc in the United States.”

Rabbi Marc Angel, vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America, said his Orthodox organization “supports the position of the Chief Rabbinate in Israel, which is that all ceremonies relating to Jewish identity and family life must be performed according to halacha.

“Dissension on these matters on the part of the non-Orthodox is undermining the foundation of Jewish life as we have known it for thousands of years,” he said.

Recommended from JTA